These are exciting and challenging times for higher education.
Whether you have noted President Barack Obama's push for increased transparency and accountability for colleges and universities, or heard Gov. Bill Haslam's compelling case for his "Drive to 55" initiative, there is no escaping the growing call for innovation to support greater student success.
Middle Tennessee State University's faculty and staff have come together to respond to these challenges. Our efforts are focused on just one question: How can we improve the success rate of our students resulting in more graduates for the workforce?
We started by reviewing our recruitment and enrollment strategies, which resulted in a 2 percent increase in this year's freshman population. The 2013-14 freshman class also showed year-over-year increases in composite ACT scores and high school GPAs.
We expanded scholarship funds for groups that have traditionally been under supported and we have asked the Tennessee Board of Regents for more flexibility in registration and payment policies.
We surveyed students who failed to re-enroll and analyzed their responses regarding factors that prevented their persistence.
And we reviewed our grade reports to better understand courses with exceptionally large numbers of students not achieving a "C" or better, so that we can consider curricular innovations to improve learning.
To that end, a cross-departmental faculty task force identified seven of our general studies courses with high failure rates. We then developed ways to make changes in we teach these classes so that more students can be successful. It is an excellent first step.
All of these efforts positioned us recently to announce our "Quest for Student Success" initiative. It calls for us to improve our systems, processes, and instructional strategies to eliminate barriers to student success.
These efforts are not about lowering academic standards in the classroom or making it easier for students. The very nature of higher education is, and should be, that it is academically challenging. It is simply about doing all we can to help our faculty and students succeed.
We will continue to make sure that every student who comes to MTSU with the drive to achieve will be met with the best instruction from excellent professors who care for their success.
We will continue to build a culture of high expectations -- coupled with personal attention when students struggle inside or outside of the classroom.
And, as an institution, we will measure our results and hold each other accountable.
This is our time for transformation -- our time to seize the opportunity to innovate, transform, and lead the way in creating a new model for higher education.
Instead of spinning our wheels focusing on external factors beyond our capacity to control, MTSU will turn its energies and talents toward tackling internal factors, over which we have direct influence, and which we know can positively impact student learning.
ABOUT THE WRITER McPhee has been president of MTSU since 2001. You can read the university's Quest for Student Success plan at www.mtsu.edu/studentsuccess.